Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, last night told Arsenal to disclose the full details of their financial relationship with the Belgian club Beveren to ascertain whether they have broken any regulations over multiple club ownership or have been guilty of a conflict of interests. The head of football's world governing body intervened after BBC's Newsnight programme revealed that a Belgian police investigation had concluded that Arsenal made secret payments of £1m to Beveren.
Arsenal issued a statement last night, saying they had lent the money in 2001 to a third party who wanted to secure Beveren's future, and denied owning Beveren, directly or indirectly, at any stage. Whether their explanation will be good enough for Fifa remains to be seen.
The payments were made in 2001 in the form of interest-free loans to Raoul de Waele, a business associate of Arsenal's vice-chairman, David Dein. Documents obtained by Newsnight show the money was used to set up a company called Goal, which would take control of Beveren. This happened. The documents show that the loan and other money advanced by Arsenal would be repaid out of Goal's share of transfer profits from selling imported Ivorians and other players. It is not clear when, or how much, money Arsenal received.
In practice, the tie-up gave Arsenal an effective monopoly over the futures of Beveren's many Ivorian players. According to Newsnight, Arsenal funded the Beveren buyout so that Jean Marc Guillou, an old friend of Arsène Wenger, could use it as a staging post to import talented Ivorian players into Europe more easily. Guillou had formerly been the head of the ASEC academy in the Ivory Coast, which produced players including Kolo Touré.
Arsenal bought Touré directly from ASEC in 2002 in a deal that turned sour for ASEC when Guillou left after a dispute with a business partner. Guillou did not have the funds to buy Beveren himself.
Instead the De Waele-controlled Goal, funded by Arsenal's money, took legal control. A director at Beveren told Newsnight that in return for £1m, De Waele was given 50 per cent control of Beveren and Guillou was given another 30 per cent.
Christian du Four, the investigating magistrate in the Flemish town of Dendermonde, who began his probe into Beveren under the initial, mistaken, belief that the secretive £1m funding may have been linked to money-laundering, described De Waele as Arsenal's "straw man" on the Beveren board.
If Arsenal did have any formal ownership of Beveren, the conflict of interests would be clear, not least in their transfer dealings. Arsenal bought Emmanuel Eboué from Beveren in January last year.
Arsenal said in a statement last night: "We do not normally make public our agreements with third parties. However, we can confirm we have had a technical relationship with Beveren since 2001.
"This relationship has a number of benefits to both clubs such as providing a platform to share coaching methods and techniques as well as facilitating the option of players being loaned between the clubs.
"During the course of the relationship, Arsenal players David Grondin, Liam Chilvers, John Halls and Graham Stack all spent successful loan periods at Beveren as did Emmanuel Eboué, who played in a number of trial matches with Arsenal whilst contracted to Beveren. Such was the latter player's success, Arsenal subsequently signed Eboué on a permanent basis.
"In addition, we confirm that we have never owned, directly or indirectly, any shares in Beveren or had any power whatsoever to influence its management or administration.
"We did in 2001 provide funds of €1,570,703 (£1.075m) by way of loan to a member of a consortium who used the money to assist in stabilising the finances of Beveren.
"At no time has anyone at Arsenal been contacted by any regulatory or investigatory body with respect to our relationship with Beveren. Arsenal have acted properly throughout, in accordance with all applicable rules and regulations," the club stated.
In a further revelation that will cause embarrassment, if not lead to any formal investigation, Newsnight also obtained documentary evidence that Wenger invested £30,000 of his own money in ASEC between 1997 and 1999 when Guillou was still in charge.
According to one document, it was anticipated that Wenger could expect to make £100,000 from his share of player sales by ASEC.
This raises a clear conflict of interest issue because Arsenal subsequently bought Touré directly from ASEC. But it is understood Arsenal were happy with Wenger investing, and Wenger has since said privately that the money was a donation, not an investment. There is no evidence Wenger was paid any of his money back.